Thursday, June 25, 2015

One Good Tern...

Three pairs of interior least terns were seen on the nesting platforms near the C and D Pad Roads area at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge  this month.  Maybe the courtship behavior (offering a minnow) in one of the photos is a sign of good things to come! 

Last week, Rusty Daniel confirmed at least two nests with one egg each that were being incubated.

Thanks to Rusty  and to Gary Hall for checking on the platforms and getting these  photos to share.

Habitat for the Least Tern, as described by Cornell Lab of Ornithology on All About Birds is “Seacoasts, beaches, bays, estuaries, lagoons, lakes and rivers, breeding on sandy or gravelly beaches and banks of rivers or lakes, rarely on flat rooftops of buildings.” You can add to that the  two artificial nesting platforms at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, especially designed and built by Refuge employees for the Least Tern. Funding for the project was provided by Jetta Operating Company, Inc and the Nancy Ruth Fund.

The first of two artificial nesting platforms (above) was  completed and put in place the summer of 2013.  A second platform was constructed and was to be "launched" in 2014 but those plans were on hold due to drought - there was no water in the area where the platform was to go! And for the record, the one-legged Terns are in this photo from 2013 are decoys!

Tern decoy carved by Dick Malnory

The Least Tern, the smallest American Tern, is an 8 to 9 inch bird, with a black "crown" on the head, a snowy whiter underside and forehead, grayish back and wings, orange legs, and a yellow bill with a black tip. Males and females are similar in their appearance. The name “Interior” is attached to Least Terns who breed in isolated areas along the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Red, and Rio Grande river systems. They winter in coastal areas of Central and South America.

Interior Least Terns at HNWR, photographed by Eileen Sullivan in June, 2011

The Interior Least Tern is endangered due to loss of habitat, primarily because of changes in river systems and competition from recreational development. Terns arrive at the breeding ground in late spring – early summer and spend several months there. Nesting in small colonies, Terns scratch out a shallow depression in sand or gravel for a nesting spot. The female lays 2 – 3 eggs in 3 – 5 days. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for about 3 weeks. Chicks hatch one per day and leave the nest a few days after hatching but continue to be fed and cared for by adults.

Terns feed on small fish and aquatic creatures and can be seen hovering and diving for prey, as well as skimming for insects.

Tern in flight, photographed by Mike Chiles

Terns usually return to the same nesting area year after year. Before the launch of Tern Island I and II, the birds chose the rocky surface of the Pad roads for their nursery, completely vulnerable to predators and extreme summer heat; the successful hatch rate was low to none.  

Nesting Tern, photographed  by Jack Chiles in 2011 on one of the Pad roads at HNWR.

Hopefully,  the platforms at the Refuge will provide a safe nursery environment for a successful hatch this year.

In addition to All About Birds, information for this post came from Texas Parks & Wildlife and from US Fish & Wildlife.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

National Pollinator Week has BEEgun!

National Pollinator Week: June 15 – 21

It’s time to give the much deserved recognition and appreciation to all of the bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, other small beings that act as pollinators for many of the plants in our native ecosystems and agricultural crop fields. “We would be lost without them” may seem like an overstatement, but after a full understanding of the ecosystem services that they provide, it should be clear to see that these natural pollinators are a vital component to the lives of all creatures, and if they did not already exist, it would be necessary to invent them.

Pollinators at work at HNWR, by Nancy Miller
Within the last decade there have been noticeable, and in the case of the Monarch Butterfly – drastic, decreases in the numbers of many species of pollinators. This is an issue that, if not quickly resolved, will lead to a wide array of problems in our natural ecosystems, as well as our very own homes. Fortunately, awareness and solutions for this threat are steadily growing, and (as you will see at the end of this short article) there are simple ways in which you, your friends, and families can help restore our pollinator populations and encourage their continued importance in the lives of all.

Pollinator at work at HNWR, by Dick Malnory
There are over 100,000 different species of pollinators that, through simple and innate interactions with plants, insure the continued production of seeds, fruits, and therefore, each new generation of plants by transferring pollen (male gametes) from plant to plant. In the natural environment, these workers are irreplaceable when it comes to maintaining the delicate flow and balance of energy among organisms and the integrity of the functioning ecosystem as whole. On the agricultural side of things, we know that at least one-third of the world’s food comes from plants pollinated by the long and diverse list of wild pollinators.  If we lack the pollinators to do the work for us we, as humans, would have to try to find a way to mimic the cross-pollination acts ourselves; a service that, when done by the natural pollinators, has been estimated to be worth nearly 200 billion dollars on a global scale.  Can you imagine the collapse that will take place in our natural ecosystems, food security, and economies if we neglect the importance of conserving the world’s pollinators?

Pollinator at work, by Charlotte Ziesmann
In response to the startling decline in the numbers of pollinators - along with several other countries, as well - The United States is taking action! Alongside the millions of dollars and working hours that have been invested to support the research of the population declines and conservation endeavors, there is a national project underway to further support the protection of these special pollinator species. Recently, the White House released the "National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators", proposing that  the 1,500 miles of I-35 roadsides are converted into pollinator friendly areas. Over the next several years, this multi-faceted plan hopes to convert roughly 7 million acres of land into appropriate reserves for pollinators like the Sunflower Bee, Franklin’s Bumblebee, or the Monarch Butterfly – an insect that is struggling to recover after a 90% decrease in total population size. But wait – it gets better!

Backyard wildflower patch, by Sue Malnory

Here is something great that you can do to help – create your own personal pollinator garden! As we continue to develop our natural lands into neighborhoods, shopping centers, and parking lots, our pollinators lose two critical components of their habitats - somewhere to nest and flowers from which they can collect nectar and pollen. If each individual, household, school, business, or neighborhood park, would commit to creating a small garden with native plants, appropriate nesting areas, and absence of pesticides, we can create a sea of small stop-over stations or refuges for the thousands of pollinators that our land is to support. In return for the services that they provide for us, it’s really the least we could do!

For fundamental information on how to create a safe, functioning, and creative garden, please visit the site below:

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is pleased to announce its participation in the Monarch Joint Venture, a national program of the Fish and Wildlife Service, with major partners National Wildlife Federation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, with the primary goal of restoring monarch butterfly populations on a national scope.   In partnership with AmeriCorps and the Student Conservation Association, monarch student conservation corps interns will support local conservation of monarch habitat through community outreach and education.

Alex Ocanas, a recent graduate of Austin College (AC), will serve as our local Monarch Intern for the next six months.  Her office is located on the refuge.  Alex exudes enthusiasm for her goal of developing community events to support monarch habitat.  She hopes to support the development of 100 pollinator gardens in Grayson County over the next six months.  Alex is planning numerous outreach and education programs through the refuge, schools, and community park systems.  Please contact her at the refuge if you have an interest in planning a pollinator garden or participating in monarch habitat conservation through community outreach and education.

Thanks to Alex for information provided in this week's blog.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

'Dillo Trouble

Checked the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and found we have had a night visitor. This visitor’s diet, according to the National Wildlife Federation, might consist of “… almost 500 different foods, most of which are insects and invertebrates such as beetles, cockroaches, wasps, yellow jackets, fire ants, scorpions, spiders, snails, and white grubs. A lesser part of the diet is comprised of small reptiles and amphibians and mammals, and  reptile and bird eggs. Less than 10 percent of the diet is from fruit, seeds, fungi, and other plant matter.” In our case, the visitor, who finds food through his sense of smell, is ploughing up areas of the garden as he roots for the insects and invertebrates. He can have the grubs but in the process he is uprooting desirable plants!

Our visitor is a nine-banded armadillo, the only species of ‘dillo found in the United States. “The term “armadillo” means 'little armored one,' and refers to the presence of bony, armor-like plates covering their body. Despite their name, nine-banded armadillos can have 7 to 11 bands on their armor.”

Dillo at HNWR, by Dick Malnory

In an essay, “The Night of the Armadillos” by Bertram Rota (Literary Austin, Ed. Don Graham, TCU Press, 2007), the London author reports seeing an armadillo in the wild for the first time: “An armadillo! As large as life and twice as natural in the eyes of a Londoner who had never seen this prehistoric survival outside the London Zoo…A good two feet long and armoured like a tank, the creature quietly nibbled grass, quite unruffled.” Then Rota presents an interesting picture of six grown men, including J. Frank Dobie, their host, plunging through knee-high grass, with Dobie exhorting his guests, “They root up everything I plant. Done more damage than I can bear” and “…drive them into the creek”. After all sorts of maneuvers by the chasers, they finally gave up the battle, declaring “It was a fair fight, six to six, but the armadillos won. In a sudden scurry all were gone and quietness reigned.”

Those who feel helpless in the face of the midnight forager might take comfort in the fact, from NWF, that “Armadillos have long been a source of food for humans. The nine-banded was nicknamed “Hoover hog” and “poor man’s pork” by people who blamed President Hoover for the Great Depression.”

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, “Armadillos are found in all but the western Trans-Pecos portion of Texas in a variety of habitats; brush, woods, scrub and grasslands. Originally from South America, they are now in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana. Their distribution is often based on soil conditions, and they are not found where the soil is too hard to dig.”

“Although breeding occurs in July, the embryo remains in a dormant state until November. Four young are born in a burrow in March. All four young, always of the same sex, are identical quadruplets and developed from the same egg. They even share a single placenta while in the womb. Armadillos are the only mammals in which multiple young form from a single egg with any regularity.”

Armadillos can live from 7 – 20 years in the wild. Their Conservation Status is “Increasing”. From the NWF:  “Humans have killed off most of their natural predators, and roadways have offered them easier means of travel to new habitats. Nine-banded armadillos have a tendency to jump straight up into the air when they are startled. This often leads to their demise on highways. They are small enough that cars can pass right over them, but they leap up and hit the undercarriage of vehicles. They are also poisoned, shot, or captured by people that consider them lawn and agricultural pests. Some are eaten or used for the curio trade.”

Last - what about leprosy?  According to an recent article in Smithsonian magazine, "... with a body temperature of just 90 degrees, one hypothesis suggests, the armadillo presents a kind of Goldilocks condition for the disease—not too hot, not too cold. Bacterial transmission to people can occur when we handle or eat the animal.  The easiest way to avoid contagion is to simply avoid unnecessary contact with the critters.

We would have more R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the State Small Mammal of Texas if he would go elsewhere for dinner!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Since we cannot visit Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge due to lake flooding, we are wondering how the Butterfly Garden is faring!  The garden suffered a little washing of mulch and some granite had washed out in one area of the walk, but we had been able to repair that before the flooding began.  The flood water came right up to the foot of the garden but did not cause a problem and should have receded by now.

The water feature has held up well and we have learned to eliminate algae with a safe product, barley extract.

Some of the plants were not happy with the continual rain, but we expect them to take off now that the sun is shining.  A few had begun to bloom, Salvia greggi, Texas lantana, Calylophus (below), Winecup, Giant Black-eyed Susan and Standing cypress. 

At home we have a number of pots of pass-along plants, shown below, just waiting to be transplanted, Turk’s Cap, Fall Aster, Maximilian sunflower, several very small oak trees and a redbud.  We found a mail order source, after searching local nurseries and plant sales, for a hop tree, Ptelea trifoliata, to be delivered this week, hope it travels well!  The hop tree is a host plant for both the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Giant Swallowtail.

The garden docents have been working on identifying plants, making labels, and are putting together a notebook with one page devoted to each plant in the garden, giving common name, botanical name, brief description and indicating benefit to wildlife, i.e. nectar and/ or host plant and for which species.  The book will be at the information Desk in the Visitor Center as a reference.  A number of these volunteers attended the butterfly symposium with Dale Clark last weekend, sponsored by the Bluestem Chapter, Texas Master Naturalists.

Due to rain  we were not able to host school groups as planned in May; those who came in April participated in Butterfly College in the garden, learning the life cycle of the Monarch and Butterfly Fun Facts, in addition to enjoying a nature hike, a slide presentation/overview of the Refuge, and the fourth learning station, Little Grass on the Prairie.  We are sharing one of the thank you letters received from a group of second-graders:

Once Refuge Road dries up and is safe to travel we will resume garden work days and Butterfly Walks!  And the Grand Opening for the Garden has been rescheduled for Sunday, October 11. Watch the Friends Facebook Page and the Featherless Flyer for updates.